War Crimes, The Hague and Fire Law… You Never Know

Have you ever started reading your email before you fully wake up? That was me this morning when I opened an email from a gentleman informing me that my name came up during a war crimes trial at the Hague last month. I rubbed my eyes, stood up and headed back to the kitchen for another cup of coffee.

Seriously? Can’t be. Must be a joke. What could I possibly have done… I mean I know I have had to take a hard stand against a few guys during my career – but war crimes? I never struck anyone… yes I have yelled, lost my temper… but war crimes? Ok I do like guns and like to shoot…. but war crimes? At the Hague?

Back at my computer I followed a link the man provided (with more than a little skepticism I might add), and soon I was reading the transcript from the trial of Serbian General Ratco Mladic. Then on page 1806 of the transcript – there it was… my name.

What became apparent was that not only was my name mentioned, but my biography, employment history and expertise had been discussed in open court, and attorneys at the Hague then argued over whether one of my articles should be admitted into evidence or not.

Relieved but intrigued… it still didn’t make sense. Was this a dream? Or maybe a prank? No, it was one of those “you can’t make this stuff up” moments… happening me to – the owner of www.youcantmakethisstuffup.net!

The email I received this morning was from a man named John Jordan, a firefighter from Bristol, Rhode Island. You may recall that John was a driving force behind an effort to help firefighters in Sarajevo during the civil war back in the 1990s. It had been so long that I did not make the connection between John and Sarajevo when I first received his email – but as time went on my recollection returned. [Note: The Fire Critic mentioned John in a post a few years ago and posted a video about his exploits – for those interested in John’s heroic work].

Last month John was a witness at the war crimes trial of General Mladic being held at the Hague. Among the crimes the General was charged with was ordering the shooting of civilians including firefighters. On cross examination by General Mladic’s attorney, John was asked questions about whether firefighters should be armed, and the risks posed. He was then confronted with what I wrote here on Fire Law Blog about armed firefighters.

Apparently the general’s defense attorney was seeking to use my words to suggest that it was unwise for firefighters in Sarajevo to have been armed, and that by arming themselves they made themselves legitimate targets. Here is how John responded to the question:

THE WITNESS:  With all due respect to Chief Varone, the casualties on the Sarajevo fire department from gun-fire and shelling exceeded 20 per cent of the department, one man in five, before we started addressing the issue of snipers.  They — they lost no one after we started protecting them to gun-fire at fires.  That would be my answer to Mr. Varone.

Folks, for the record – our discussion here in Fire Law Blog about armed firefighters pertained to domestic, peacetime arming of firefighters and paramedics. What was occurring in Sarajevo back in the 1990s was a totally different scenario and I would not even pretend to suggest that what works here in peace time would be wise in the middle of a vicious civil war.

The testimony is available online at http://www.icty.org/x/cases/mladic/trans/en/120828ED.htm

It was given on August 28, 2012 and begins on page 1806 of the transcript.

John – my hat remains off to you for all you have done for the firefighters of Sarajevo – and the brotherhood of firefighters world-wide.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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